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Jails Sell Prisoners E-Cigarettes, a Gateway to Drug Addiction

As jail officials across the country market e-cigarettes to prisoners at profit margins topping 400 percent, a new study suggests that these “pure nicotine-delivery devices” may actually be a “gateway drug” to cocaine and other serious drug addictions.

E-cigarettes use a small battery to heat a solution which produces a water vapor that is inhaled. Nicotine is the most popular additive. “Although e-cigarettes eliminate some of the morbidity associated with combustible tobacco, they and related products are pure nicotine- delivery devices,” according to a study published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study is authored by the wife-husband research team of Denise and Eric Kandel, who have been analyzing the effects of nicotine for years.

As we have previously reported (PLN Feb 2014, p. 54) jails in at least seven states charge prisoners between $8 and $30 for one plastic, non-reusable, “jail safe” e-cigarette. Tennessee Sheriff Mark Gammons charges prisoners $10 for e-cigarettes he purchases for $2.75.

While e-cigarettes do not contain the tar and other byproducts found in regular cigarettes, they have the same effect on the brain. “Our society needs to be concerned about the effect of e- cigarettes on the brain, especially in young people, and the potential for creating a new generation of persons addicted to nicotine,” the Kandels urged.

Epidemiologic studies show that nicotine addiction is a gateway to marijuana and cocaine abuse, the Kandels reported. Research also found that “nicotine dramatically enhanced the effect of cocaine” by activating a reward-related gene and impeding inhibition.

“The fact that this is a significant influence on encouraging or facilitating the use of other drugs is never discussed, and it’s just a major omission,” Eric argues. “If people knew that this is in fact the danger... they’d be much less enthusiastic about using nicotine.”

“More effective prevention programs need to be developed for all the products that contain nicotine, especially those targeting young people,” the Kandels advised. “Our data suggest that effective interventions would not only prevent smoking and its negative health consequences but also decrease the risk of progressing to illicit drug use and addiction.”


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